I could tell they were talking shit; they weren’t exactly trying to hide it. They wore judgmental smirks and perplexed grimaces as they whispered feverishly amongst themselves. Marianne, who had been my next door neighbor since I arrived in London two months earlier, interrupted me and in her thick French accent asked, “Why doo you doo that way?” Immediately it became clear that the four French hipsters in front of me were mocking the manner in which I was rolling my hash laden spliff (Spliff \ˈsplif\ noun Slang: a cigarette consisting of tobacco and marijuana or hash). I could feel my face growing flush and knew within seconds it would be bright red. I wasn’t embarrassed exactly, just uncomfortably self-conscious, and annoyed. Annoyed that these mooches would have the nerve to scoff at my rolling technique- the dollar bill technique.
One of the men, Pierre, stared on as if he was watching a circus sideshow. He was confused, bewildered, yet thoroughly entertained. To Pierre, this was an oddity he’d never seen before. Clearly he was captivated. Before I could answer Marianne; Pierre, through his thick French accent asked, “Why doo you use the doll-air?” His confused tone and judgmental smirk led me to believe that he assumed my use of the dollar bill was inspired by some sort of nationalistic pride. That somehow or another I was paying homage to the good ole U.S. of A when I removed the greenback from my wallet and used it to assist me in rolling the spliff. The answer to Marianne and Pierre’s question was quite simple: “This is the only way I know how to do it.” My answer was met with immediate laughter from the group which turned my face red, now with embarrassment. ‘To hell with you Frenchies,’ I thought. ‘Just because you’ve been rolling cigarettes since the day you left your mothers’ wombs doesn’t mean that the rest of the world has. You jerks.’
While sitting cross legged on the floor of Marianne’s flat, drinking wine, noshing on cheese, passing the spliff, I explained it all to them- That I was new to rolling. That back in the States I almost never rolled spliffs, or joints, or doobies. That back in the States I would typically smoke hash or weed out of a pipe or a bong. And again, that this was the only way I knew how to roll. “Why not use different pap-air? Why must it be the doll-air?” Pierre asked as he puffed on the exquisitely rolled, perfectly burning spliff. “The doll-air is dirty, no? Do you keep a doll-air just for rolling? Does every American use the doll-air to roll?” I sighed and tried to remain calm as Pierre peppered me with questions. Pierre was quickly growing annoying and each and every one of his seemingly innocent questions was coming off as judgmental digs against me and by association, all Americans.
As Pierre’s barrage of questions came at me, I couldn’t help but fantasize about punching him square in the face. Pierre was thin, a wee bit shorter than me, and had the look of a man who had never thrown a punch in his life- the perfect candidate to engage in a fist fight. He was just large enough to beat up and not feel any guilt, yet slight enough to all but guarantee a victory. But then again he was a friend of Marianne’s, visiting from France. He was her guest in her apartment, as was I. Plus, I had a crush on Marianne and I in no way wanted to offend her and jeopardize getting in her pants. I wanted to maintain my image of the calm, suave American, studying abroad. A debonair international man of all things cool, which, at the time, I fancied myself. So, perhaps a bit red-faced from feeling put on the spot, I calmly answered all of Pierre’s questions.
Pierre turned to his friends, Marc and Julie, and translated our conversation back to their native tongue. Although I had no idea what they were saying, I could infer that their conversation was regarding my use of the dollar bill which still confused them. Within minutes everyone was high from the hash heavy spliff and Pierre offered, “That was really good smoke.” An obvious gesture meant to mend any wounds his inquisitive mind may have rendered. I smiled and nodded in agreement.
After the spliff had been smoked down to a tiny nub, the group adjourned for a cigarette break. While outside, smoking our cigarettes, enduring a particularly brisk London autumn evening, Marianne asked me a question I really did not want to field: “So, what you think of Julie?” She said it with a wink and a smile suggesting that she and Julie had already discussed the prospects of a romantic liaison. “You think she is pretty- no?” I turned to Julie only to reconfirm my already formed opinion which was, no, I did not think she was pretty. She was too thin- practically a waif. She dressed in all black and exuded vibes of clinical depression. She had only smiled but one time since I met her an hour earlier and that was to laugh at my expense while I rolled the spliff, and when she did crack that smile, she revealed her jagged teeth, stained from a lifetime of smoking Marlboro Reds. To say the least, Julie was not my type.
Not wanting to offend Marianne, I took the highroad and said, “She’s… okay,” then quickly added what I’ve wanted to tell her since I met her two months earlier, “But, I really like her friend.” Marianne contorted her face, lifting her eyebrows, widening her eyes and said, “Who- Pierre or Marc?” We laughed together, both knowing her retort was in jest.
“Oh, they’re alright,” I replied still chuckling from her quick response. “But, I was really thinking of you.” We locked eyes and smiled at each other. I tried to give her an intense gaze of unmistakable passion, which only made her laugh more.
“You’re cute, but you’re not my type.” Marianne said as she put out her cigarette and lit another. Undeterred, I continued my gaze of passion which only made her laugh harder. Seconds later Pierre, Marc, and Julie joined the two of us and our intimate chat was over. I sighed in frustration, recognizing that Marianne was a long shot at best. She was older; sure, just a few years biologically but light years in maturity. She was a professional, while I was just a student. She was worldly and sophisticated, and I was naïve and inexperienced. And she was beautiful by all standards, whereas I was, as Marianne had put it, cute. Now knowing I had no chance with Marianne, I bid the French foursome adieu, allowing the old friends the opportunity to catch-up without the awkward American there to interfere with their undoubtedly deep conversations only the French could enjoy, and I went on my way.
Before I reached the front door of my flat which was only a few steps from where we were just standing, I heard my name being called by my crush, Marianne. I turned around, and for just a second thought perhaps she had suddenly reconsidered my advances. In an instant, my hopes were dashed when she asked, “Doo you have extra hash for us? We pay you for it.” I chuckled to myself and handed Marianne the little bit I had left; telling her her money was no good with me. I turned back around to open my front door when she called my name once again. This time I was certain she had a sudden change of heart and a thank-you kiss of the French variety was surely coming my way. Then she asked, “Doo you have the pap-airs for rolling?” I handed her the package of rolling papers I had in my pocket, wished the group good-night, and opened the front door to my flat. Immediately before entering my abode, I turned back to the group, and with my trusty dollar bill in hand asked, “You guys want to borrow my dollar? You know- to help you roll.” Marianne and her friends laughed hardily at the suggestion and assured me they would be just fine without it. I shrugged, and finally entered my flat, leaving Marianne and her French hipster friends to their own devices.
Days passed before I saw Marianne again. We led different lives and had different lifestyles. She was in London teaching French to posh English children at a local elementary school. I was a college student, studying in London for the semester. When Marianne was declaring an early bedtime due to an exhausting day of teaching, I was declaring it time to head to the pubs for an exhausting night of drinking. Once every few days or so, we would convene for a splash of wine and few cigarettes but the extent of our socializing was primarily confined the shared stoop of our flats. She couldn’t be bothered to join me and my fellow Americans at the local pubs- it just wasn’t in her nature to drink till she vomited on a school night. I on the other hand, found drinking till I vomited to be amongst the best parts of living in London, especially on a school night.
But just when I thought Marianne was a demure innocent, a beacon of virtue, she would go and surprise me. One foggy Saturday, I watched Marianne stumble home at two in the morning with a handsome gentleman by her side. Her gentleman friend was the embodiment of all things European. I couldn’t get over how tight his pants were, how form fitting his suit jacket was, and how he seemed to be wearing two, perhaps three scarves. As I smoked the day’s last cigarette, watching the couple emerge from the dense fog, I was struck by how much older he was than her. ‘So this is your type,’ I thought as I watched the two approach. Marianne’s friend was Euro-chic to the max and while he was unmistakably good looking, he was older- much older. It was only a guess, but I supposed he was twenty years her senior, possibly more.
“Bonjour,” Marianne said when she finally reached her front door with her gentleman caller in tow. She spoke to her friend in French, as she struggled with the lock on the door. All I understood her say was, “Am-air-E-can” at which point the handsome older gentleman nodded in understanding and offered me a “bonjour,” which was accompanied with a nod and a grin. I smiled back, said, “Hello,” and just before they entered her flat Marianna said “Ta-ta,” and her handsome older beau shot me a wink.
‘Oh, what the hell,’ I thought. ‘Marianne is entitled to date anyone she wants, even if he is twenty-something years older than her.’ Moments later, the sounds of love were in the air. I laughed as I listened in. I didn’t have to put my ear to the door, for the stoop was a more than sufficient location to hear the love making next door. Not wanting to be taken for a voyeur, I extinguished my cigarette and headed inside my apartment for a wank and a good night’s sleep.
The very next weekend, Marianne was feeling social. She informed me Saturday afternoon that she would be entertaining a couple of friends from back home as well as a co-worker or two, and wanted to invite me over for a small shindig later that evening. Of course I accepted her invitation and in an effort to be a good guest, arrived with ten quid worth of hash I scored from one of my English mates I made during the semester. This time I had the presence of mind to allow one of the Euros in the room to roll the spliffs. No need to embarrass myself twice with that damn dollar bill.
The get-together was quaint- a party of just seven. Alcohol of all varieties was consumed, the hash was enjoyed by all, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. After a couple hours of mingling, I noticed one of Marianne’s French friends inhaling something from a small vial. Before too long the vial was passed around and before I knew it, it was being offered to me.
“What is it?” I asked as it was handed over. I had no idea what the hell these Europeans were doing. Obviously it was a drug of some sort but it wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. It wasn’t a powder, or a pill, and it certainly wasn’t marijuana or hash.
“It’s… how you say..?” Marianne’s French friend labored to find the word. Marianne jumped in to relieve her struggling friend. “It’s pop-air,” she said definitively.
Still I was confused. I had no idea what Marianne was saying so I turned to one of the two English girls for clarification. “It’s a popper,” the girl replied. Confused even still, I shrugged and asked, “Well, what the hell is that?”
Marianne’s French friend tried to explain. “It make your heart go- ‘boom-boom-boom,’ and make your brain go ‘weeee.’” His explanation was supplemented with dramatic pantomiming, wild hand gestures, and a wide beaming smile all meant to convey how fabulous this stuff was.
Again, I asked, “No, really- what is it?”
One of the English girls finally provided the answer I was looking for: “It’s amyl nitrate.” Marianne quickly added, “It’s, aphrodisiac.” I didn’t always understand everything Marianne said or tried to say. Between her thick French accent and habit of removing certain key formative words from her sentences, I often struggled to comprehend exactly what it was she was saying. However, when Marianne stated that the vial of amyl nitrate was, as she put it, an “aphrodisiac,” I understood her explicitly. This stuff, this pop-air, this amyl nitrate, this aphrodisiac, made those who inhaled its intoxicating vapors horny– or at least that was my understanding. So, in a room full of attractive European women, all of whom had just imbibed in the popper’s intoxicating vapors before me, I suddenly wanted nothing more than to give this stuff a try. Hell, a man never knows when his fantasies are about to come true and I wasn’t about to let my inhibitions get in the way of some sort of European, amyl nitrate fueled sex orgy- a favorite amongst all my fantasies.
The amyl nitrate did not come with any instructions as none really were needed. I had just seen six other people do it so I thought it was pretty self-explanatory. Simply put the vial to your nose, and inhale. So I removed the cap from the vial and did just that- I inhaled, deeply. Perhaps a little too deeply which is, and has always been, one of my countless bad habits. Give me an odor, good or bad, and my instinct is to breathe it in as deep as I can. When it’s good and the scent is pleasurable, such as the case of many perfumes or well ripened fruits, all is well. But, when it’s a bad odor, such as the case with a mildew encrusted sponge or a spoiled carton of milk, I still inhale deeply, and suffer the consequences.
Inhaling the amyl nitrate deeply was a mistake which I recognized within seconds after putting the vial to my nose. It took just a few moments after breathing in the intoxicating vapors before my heart did just as the Frenchman had said it would and went ‘boom, boom, boom.’ Oddly, my heart beat was not isolated to my chest. From the tip of my toes to the top of my head, I could feel my rapidly beating heart. Seconds later, my brain did just as the Frenchman had predicted, though, instead of going ‘weeeee,’ as he said it would, my brain screamed ‘ahhhhhh,’ in bloody terror, furious at me for indulging in the curious potion. Then I felt my face grow flush and before I knew it everyone in the room was asking me if I was okay. It wasn’t long after that the room began to spin and I knew my only course of action was to get outside as fast as possible before I projectile vomited all over my host and her guests.
Within minutes of inhaling the amyl nitrate I was puking all over the grass lawn in front of our apartment complex. The six Europeans I was partying with just moments before followed me outside and watched on as I vomited up the alcohol I had consumed throughout the evening. All the women seemed genuinely concerned for my wellbeing, while the Frenchman couldn’t help but be amused and laughed hysterically as he watched me heave all over the lawn- the bastard.
After a few minutes of sickness on the lawn, still nauseous and engulfed in a bad case of the spins, I turned to Marianne and informed her that I thought it was best if I went to my flat to lie down for the evening. She and the other women agreed with my inclination and escorted me to the front door of my flat. Just as I entered my apartment, Marianne sweetly called after me. I turned to her, thinking a consolatory kiss on the cheek or maybe a friendly hug was coming my way. No friendly kiss or hug was coming my way; she was thinking of something else when she asked, “Doo you have the hash?” Not wanting my little episode to ruin their evening, I smiled, and without a word, handed over what little bit of hash I had left. Just as I went to shut the door to my flat she sweetly called my name once again. Immediately, I knew what she was after and without a word said, handed over the pack of rolling papers from my pocket. She smiled and sweetly whispered, “Merci- I hope feel bett-air.” I was passed out cold before Marianne and her friends returned to her apartment.
The day I was set to leave London and return to the States, Marianne waited with me for the taxi to arrive and drive me to the airport. As we smoked our last cigarettes together, we exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch. We both knew we never would. She had no real intentions of traveling to America and I had no idea when I would return to Europe. So knowing that this was my last time with her, I spilled my guts and confessed that I thought she was beautiful, and smart, and sexy, and that the entire time I lived next to her I fantasized about her and how I wanted nothing more than to hookup with her. She could not help but laugh at me and my forward admission. Caught up in the moment, I began to laugh along with her, and said, “You know what would really make for a perfect ending to this trip is if we kissed- passionately kissed.” This only made her laugh harder.
“Here? Now?” She asked, fighting off the laughter.
Teetering on the edge of desperation, I blurted: “Yes, now! Of course, now. Hurry, before my taxi arrives. Come on, let’s do it.”
Unmoved and still chuckling, Marrianne, through her thick yet seductive French accent replied: “But you are my friend, I doo not doo kissing with friend.” I smiled and nodded in understanding. A moment later the taxi arrived. We hugged goodbye and she kissed me on the cheek, as friends will do. “Goodbye my friend,” she said as I got into the taxi. “I have fun with you as my neighbor.”
Me too, Marianne. Me too.
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